Their secondary was relegated to employing Will Davis, a rookie, and Jimmy Wilson, who typically covers the slot, on the boundaries and a player they had just poached off of the San Francisco 49ers‘ practice squad earlier in the week, Michael Thomas, at nickel after Brent Grimes and Nolan Carroll suffered injuries. Grimes and Carroll each missed practice time this week in preparation for the Buffalo Bills in Week 16, but when the Dolphins released their official injury report on Friday afternoon both were listed as “probable.”
It appears Miami will be at full strength at cornerback, after all. It may be without running back Daniel Thomas, though, who suffered an ankle injury against New England and was limited at practice throughout the week. Thomas has only rushed for 400 yards on the year, but the Bills’ own the league’s 26th ranked run defense. A healthy Thomas would likely get a significant workload as the Dolphins look to establish a consistently productive rushing attack.
Miami was forced to make due without Thomas against the New York Jets in Week 13 as well but actually had one of its better showings of the season on the ground. The Dolphins only averaged 3.5 yards per carry against the Jets, but Rex Ryan‘s defense was ranked No. 1 in the entire NFL in defending the run at the time. Offensive coordinator Mike Sherman remained committed to pounding the rock to the tune of 125 rushing yards as Mike Gillislee and Marcus Thigpen saw their roles increase.
Regardless of if Thomas suits up or not, expect Lamar Miller to be the feature back on Sunday. Miller has 628 rushing yards on 4.0 yards per carry thus far in 2013. While Thomas would be missed, especially in short-yardage situations, the Dolphins have already proven they are still capable of running the football with success without him.
Joining cornerbacks Brent Grimes (groin) and Nolan Carroll (knee) on the “probable” list are defensive tackle Paul Soliai (ankle), long snapper John Denney (ankle), free safety Chris Clemons (hamstring, knee), strong safety Reshad Jones (groin), defensive end Olivier Vernon (ankle) and cornerback Jamar Taylor (hamstring).
For the Bills, it has been known since Wednesday that quarterback EJ Manuel (knee) and wide receiver Stevie Johnson (personal reason) would miss this game. Manuel was held out of the Bills’ first matchup with the Dolphins back in October with a knee injury, as well. Starting in his place once again will be South Florida native Thad Lewis.
In three starts, Lewis has thrown for 652 yards, three touchdown passes and two interceptions for the Bills this season. His sample size is smaller, but he was actually slightly more productive than Manuel has been. Lewis won’t have No. 1 receiver Stevie Johnson at his disposal this time around, though.
Although he’s in the midst of a disappointing year, Johnson leads Buffalo with 597 receiving yards. Without him, Lewis will be forced to rely on tight end Scott Chandler and rookie receiver Robert Woods to pick up the slack. Expect Woods to be covered by Grimes for the majority of Sunday’s game, which isn’t a matchup that bodes well for the first-year pass catcher.
The Bills will also be without starting safety Aaron Williams, who suffered a rib injury in Week 15. Williams has started every game for Buffalo this season and is Pro Football Focus’ 25th ranked safety out of 88 eligible players at the position. He also has four interceptions in 2013 which is tied for first on the team. Ninth-year veteran Jim Leonhard is expected to start in Williams’ place. Leonhard started for an injured Jairus Byrd earlier in the season but ranks as the league’s 71st most efficient safety by Pro Football Focus.
Cornerback Brandon Smith (ankle), running back Fred Jackson (ribs), defensive tackle Marcell Dareus (ankle) and defensive end Kyle Williams (Achilles) are all expected to play for the Bills.
Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins contributor for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.